Futurama is the best of the animated shows intended for adults.
It’s not a fire take if its true, and this is. Seven seasons, three movies, and a cast of smart, well rounded characters to rival the best live action shows on television. The writing staff included geeky elements right off the bat that reminded everyone of their favorite franchises, and with hilarious enough pop culture references to lure fans in and hook them.
Great writing was on display early on in the series. While the pilot and the first episode weren’t the strongest, they hit stride on episode 3 with “I, Roommate”, where Fry and Bender’s friendship was tested for the first time.
The sci-fi elements were extremely on point, going as far as to have the best educated writing staff on television by several doctorates. One of the first examples of their willingness to explore controversial scientific themes was the Mars University episode, where Gunther the experiment monkey and Fry are both enrolled. The episode shows the perils of forcing animals into human roles and the ethics of using them for testing, as well as the stress of pursuing great knowledge.
Hell, they even wrote a proof of a practical application of differential equations…that was published as well as animated!
One of my favorite episodes came in season two, which is basically a best of highlight reel. There are many great episodes here, exploring politics, sex, cloning, and getting into deeper storylines on some of the great side characters, like Zap Brannigan and Hermes Conrad.
“How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back” is my personal #1, because of sheer laughter I got from it. Sure, that might be due to auditing for a living, but it is more likely to be due to my personal ethos coming from an unlikely source.
The only issue Futurama had was the same as all the great Sci-Fi shows – it couldn’t keep itself on the air. A glut of competing animated shows were on at the time – Family Guy, King of the Hill, The Simpsons, South Park, The PJ’s, and Dilbert. While viewership was fairly strong, it maintained at least 6.4 million viewers, with the high point being 14.2 million for the second ep of the first season.
Fox effectively cancelled the show in 2003, and it lived on in syndication on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim and on Comedy Central until 2008, when four feature length films were released on Comedy Central, the first new content in six years. By 2010, season six was airing, and it all was over by 2013.
There were some truly hilarious moments, like the infamous Snu-Snu episode.
Or when Bender makes a truly savage deal with the Robot Devil.
Schrodinger’s Chase was pretty awesome.
As was Zapp at his best – in character as the Velour Fog.
We also got to see some excellent satire on how to solve global warming.
There was also some epic poignancy in this show, and it rarely came off as contrived. For example, in the third season episode, Godfellas, Bender talked with “God” in only the way a foul mouthed, narcissistic but hilarious robot can.
It was always so satisfying to see a character get what they deserved, both positive and negative. Seeing Nibbler give Fry his greatest desire and a measure of closure about his old life was amazing.
It was also brilliant to see Fry find what happened to his family, and his legacy.
Then, there’s the granddaddy of the tearjerkers, the episode I could only watch once (and I’ve watched the rest over and over an embarrassingly amount more than that) the Seymour episode. (Caution: NSFL or Dog lovers)
It wasn’t always dusty in here when the mirror was turned upon Fry’s past. Seeing him trying to explain why the 20th century worked as it did was fascinating and amusing, as well as a little infuriating.
Futurama was not as prolific as the Simpsons, or groundbreaking like King of the Hill. It was not as fast and edgy with the jokes as Family Guy, and eventually, it paid the price in cancellation. But before it was gone, it left a legacy that says that animation doesn’t have to be dumbed down, and was able to hold up a mirror to the best and worst of our culture and show a future in which we have overcome some of our worst instincts. In the Futurama 3000’s, humanity has freed itself from much of the drudgery of the world by deploying a robot army to do the dirty work. Society is prosperous, and even those at the fringes are able to be mostly healthy and happy. Men and women have kept moving toward equality and better understanding of each other, and the justice system seems to at least not have gotten worse. Groening may have the Simpsons to point to as his greatest work, but Futurama will always have a place among the great sci-fi and animated shows, employing the smartest bunch of writers ever to create a work of mid-century style futuristic art that is somehow both a time capsule and timeless.
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